June 30, 2009

First Ever SBN Hockey Radio

It's a little choppy because it's the first one because we haven't worked together before, but here you go. I'm the only woman on here, so I'll be easy to pick out of the crowd. I don't talk much until the last five minutes, tho, when I'm giving my prediction of the Tampa Bay Lightning's offseason. There was a half-second time delay on my end, so whenever I tried jumping in I'd talk over people. And I my call was kicked off once, which was annoying. So when I called back I decided to wait until called upon.

By the way, the audio kicks in about a minute in. Why? I don't know. That's just the way it is.

The show, for future reference, can be found HERE.


Lecavalier Almost Traded To Montreal - Again

It's decision time for GM Gainey

I'm soo not surprised by this. At this point, I don't think Lecavalier will be moved. But only because ownership is so divided that they cant' agree at anything at the moment.

Speaking of the draft...on a lighter note....

Brian Burke mic'd at the draft: What TSN didn't show you

Oh, and one more thing. Discuss.

USA Hockey Invites 34 Players To Attend U.S. Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Orientation Camp

Perception versus reality

The NHL's moment of truth

I think I'm going to have to side with the owners on this one. A lot of people have lost a good deal of money because of the stock market. Teams that look healthy, may not be. It just depends on when and where owners have invested their money.

Just as the average person has been hit pretty hard by the economy, so have athletes and owners alike. For player agents to assume that the owners are bluffing when they say that they don't have the money to sign some of these guy is to be intentionally ignorant of the facts. Certainly they're at least partly bluffing. But at the same time, it's partly true.

Make no mistake - player agents are out to make money for themselves. I know that a lot of athletes place an inordinate amount of trust in their agents, but the fact is that they wouldn't be in business if they couldn't make money at it. And managing an athlete can bring in a lot of money. I'm sure most genuinely care about the players they manage to varying degrees, but not all of them do.

So they work the system to their own advantage - which, most of the time, is also to the athlete's advantage. That is, unless your agent is someone like Scott Boras. Then he only works the system to his own advantage.

Frankly, I find the whole agent-athlete relationship to be a bit shady. But then, I'm not one to trust people completely. Maybe it's because I find it strange the complete trust athletes have in their agents when they don't trust much of anyone else. And in any other situation, they wouldn't trust someone in a similar position to their agents.

Back to the owners, there are a great many billionaires that have lost half of their wealth. Now, half of a few billion is still nothing to sneeze at, sure, but these people aren't used to downgrading their lifestyles. (Well, to be honest, no one is - but that's another story completely.) However, spreading half of your income around to cover what you'd previously used twice that much for doesn't always work - even when you're talking numbers in the billions.

For example, if you've got two teams that you're used to blowing $450 million on each a season, and suddenly you've lost half your income - that's a problem. Most people probably wouldn't think so, but we're talking relative economics here. If you're used to living a certain way and you lose half of your income, you'd be having a hard time, too. Try going from a two income household to just one and get back to me.

June 29, 2009

Team USA Hockey Fun

Team USA's Personality Experiment

Gotta love Mike's little fantasy conversation - too funny!

Never a dull moment with Torts, is it? It ought to be interesting to see how that dynamic develops. Hopefully, it ends up being a good thing. Having a competitive Olympic team might be novel, for a change.

As a side note, I will be on internet radio once more. This time, SB Nation - the people John and I write Raw Charge for - have granted the group of us hockey bloggers a chance to try out our own internet radio show. In theory, it'll be once a month with a rotation of hosts. The idea was suggested by the blogger for the Dallas Stars blog, Defending Big D.

The first shot comes tomorrow night at 7 pm ET, where we'll talk about the draft and about free agency. Since this is a trial run, it'll probably be more like conversation than an actual radio talk show. So who knows how it'll turn out. It shouldn't be too hard to pick me out of that crowd, since I'm sure I'll be the only woman talking.

Defending Big D [Blog Talk Radio]

Undrafted Players Want A Chance, Too

Hidden gems: Players who slipped through the cracks in the NHL draft

This is another reason why I don't care for the draft. I realize that it's a necessary part of any team sport, but still. Just as many players who get drafted never make it to the NHL, many players who don't get drafted do. You just never know until they hit that NHL ice.

June 28, 2009

First Round 2009 NHL Entry Draft Play-By-Play

Is there a draft in here?

Speaking of the draft.... A friend of mine did a humorous play-by-play of the first round of the draft. I highly recommend reading it. It's pretty funny.

The full results of the draft, which are also sortable, can be found HERE.

My NHL Draft Experience Via Twitter

I'll be the first to tell you that I have no real interest in the draft. It honestly means nothing to me. Now, when these guys step on NHL ice, then I start paying attention.

So I was dragged kicking and screaming (okay - with a resigned sigh) into following the draft this year by my blogging partner on Raw Charge, John. I didn't bother with the TV broadcast, tho. I have a Twitter account that I've never used, so I followed the draft via Twitter. (Personally, I sort of think that Facebook covers the whole Twitter thing - but maybe that's just me.)

That was an interesting experience. The only NHL team that I followed was Tampa Bay, but I was also following a bunch of bloggers and journalists that were there. I was seeing picks named before teams even went up to the stage to announce them. Rumors of trades were flying around, too. I knew about the Pronger trade a full hour before it was officially announced. It was part way thru the second day of the draft that I was beginning to think that I should've followed the rest of the NHL teams.

And it was pretty funny at times. Most of the tweeters were men, and they kept going off on what people were wearing. And making catty comments about other people's clothes, too. That typically happened when there was mostly nothing else of interest going on. It was like a bunch of women had taken over.

It was prolific, too. I'd had it set up where I had messages sent to my cell phone at work. I started talking to someone and 10 minutes later I had 22 messages. Mostly about how the bloggers were better dressed than the reporters - from the bloggers themselves, of course. The reporters had nothing to say about the bloggers, for some reason.

Then there was the commentary about how teams and reporters were conducting themselves. The blow-by-blow of what Brian Burke was up to, who was talking to who, and who was ignoring who. It was all very middle school. I felt like I should've jumped in and made up some stuff.

I still haven't sent out any of my own tweets. I'm sort of leaving that for when I go to games next season. I had a few people want to follow me, tho. So that got me to thinking. How many followers will it take to get me to start tweeting even if nothing's going on?

It's sort of this little scientific experiment I've got going with myself. I do things like that sometimes. Weird, I know, but it keeps me occupied in my spare moments.

I'll probably be back doing the same thing later this week when free agency season opens Wednesday. (It's like: "Duck season!" "Wabbit season!" "Wabbit season!" "Duck season!" Boom! Sorry - sort of an inside joke with my friend Aparna. Those crazy left turns at Albuquerque....) Anywho, this time I'll probably follow the rest of the NHL - mostly just to be nosy. I expect to get little to no work done Tuesday and Wednesday, which is too bad since it's a 4-day work week.

So how this Twitter thing works, if you have no idea. You go and create an account, and then you can search for people to follow what they're doing. That is, you get their constant stream of updates sent however you want them - online only, and/or to your cell phone. Then you can decide if you want your messages to be sent to whoever, or if you want to approve specifically who is allowed to see your messages. Those are your followers. You have 140 character spaces to make your point or updates with. You can also send pictures and website links over Twitter.

I have it set up so that I have to approve whoever wants to follow me. Why? I don't know. It just sounded like a good idea at the time.

So is it considered eavesdropping if you read a live conversation but don't participate in it?

June 27, 2009

A sports blog post about...me?

Better Know a Blogger: Raw Charge's Cassie McClellan

It's official. The world's gone crazy. Someone wrote a blog about me. Have things truly become that desperate?

June 25, 2009

Fedorov goes back to Russia (to play hockey)

News You Can Use: Sergei Fedorov signed by Metallurg Magnitogorsk

This makes me sad inside....

EPIC FAIL - OK Hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning

(Note: For those wanting to link to this post, please instead link to my post on Raw Charge, Under the Big Top - An OK Hockey / Lightning Time Line. Thank you.)

The last couple of days have been kind of crazy with the Lightning and with life, but here you go - a post on the Tampa Bay ownership. Over on the other hockey blog I write for, Raw Charge, John and I came up with a time line of trauma. These are the events and transactions that have led the franchise to where they are today. If we've missed anything important, please feel free to post it in the comments.
  • August 7th, 2007. Absolute Hockey (Doug MacLean, Jeff Sherrin and producer Oren Koules) announce intentions to purchase the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club from Palace Sports and Entertainment.
  • November 27th, 2007. Absolute Hockey's deal with Palace Sports falls through after not paying Palace Sports a 5 million dollar deposit. Oren Koules withholds money to cancel the deal. Partners Sherrin and MacLean sue.
  • December 2007. OK Hockey is formed, as is a second group seeking to purchase the Lightning (with former members of Absolute Hockey involved).
  • December 20, 2007. Settlement reached between OK Hockey and Doug MacLean/Jeff Sherrin. The deal reduces the suitors for the Lightning franchise to one – Koules lead OK Hockey group.
  • February 25, 2008. D Dan Boyle signs a 6-year, $40 million contract with a no-trade clause.
  • February 26, 2008. C Brad Richards and G Johan Holmqvist are traded to Dallas for C Jeff Halpern, LW Jussi Jokinen, G Mike Smith, and a 2008 4th round draft pick.
  • April 2008. The Tampa Bay Lightning ends the 2007-2008 season 30th overall in the NHL, with a record of 31-42-9.
  • June 3, 2008. Head coach John Tortorella is fired.
  • June 20, 2008. C Steven Stamkos is drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.
  • June 24, 2008. Barry Melrose is hired as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • June 25, 2008 Hired former-NHL-player-turned-agent Brian Lawton as the team’s Vice President of Hockey Operations; also serving in the capacity as acting General Manager.
  • June 28, 2008. LW Ryan Malone signs a seven-year, $31.5 million contract. Team announces hiring of Malone’s father, Greg, as head pro scout.
  • July 4, 2008. D Dan Boyle and D Brad Lukowich are traded to San Jose for D Matt Carle, D Ty Wishart, a 2009 1st round draft pick, and a 2010 4th round draft pick.
  • July 11, 2008. General Manager Jay Feaster quietly resigns.
  • July 13, 2008. C Vincent Lecavalier signs an 11-year, $85 million contract extension.
  • August 29, 2008. D Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard, and a 2009 1st round draft pick are traded to Ottawa for D Andrej Meszaros.
  • September 16, 2008. Training camp opens in Tampa, Florida, with 26 forwards, 13 defensemen, and 4 goaltenders in attendance.
  • October 6, 2008. D Shane O’Brien and RW Michel Ouellet are traded to Vancouver for D Lukas Krajicek and RW Juraj Simek.
  • October 21, 2008. Elevated Brian Lawton to the position of Executive Vice President and General Manager.
  • October 21, 2008. LW Matt Pettinger was picked up off waivers from Vancouver. Pettinger was a minority owner in Bear Mountain resort owned by part-owner Len Barrie.
  • November 7, 2008. D Matt Carle and a 2009 3rd round draft pick are traded to Philadelphia for D Steve Eminger, RW Steve Downie, and a 2009 4th round draft pick.
  • November 13, 2008. D Janne Niskala is granted the request to be waived so he can play in Sweden.
  • November 15, 2008. Barry Melrose is fired 16 games into the season. Assistant coach Rick Tocchet is promoted to interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
  • December 8, 2008. RW Radim Vrbata is granted permission to leave the team so he can play in the Czech Republic.
  • December 19, 2009. LW Jussi Jokinen is placed on waivers and is not claimed nor sent to the minors.
  • January 14, 2009. While the team was in California, rumors are flying that there's a deal in the works between Tampa Bay and Montréal to trade Lecavalier. Lightning GM Brian
  • Lawton flatly denies the rumors that he has been shopping Lecavalier.
  • February 4, 2009. LW Jussi Jokinen is placed on waivers for a second time, and is not claimed nor sent to the minors.
  • February 7, 2009. LW Jussi Jokinen is traded to Carolina for D Wade Brookbank, D Josef Melichar, and a 2009 4th round draft pick.
  • February 18, 2009. Montréal Canadiens' GM Bob Gainey reveals that negotiations with Tampa Bay for a Lecavalier trade were, in fact, going on in January.
  • March 1, 2009. Team begins charging St. Pete Times Forum employees to park, affecting some 500-600 staff.
  • March 4, 2009. D Steve Eminger is traded to Florida for D Noah Welch and a 2009 3rd round draft pick.
  • March 12, 2009. Lightning marketing director Mark Gullett and six other staff are dismissed by OK Hockey.
  • March 22, 2009. News surfaces that Angelina Lawton, wife of GM Brian Lawton, has been hired as head of corporate communications. Koules insists that there was no special reason for hiring.
  • April 2008. The Tampa Bay Lightning ends the 2008-2009 season 29th overall in the NHL, with a record of 24-40-18.
  • April 13, 2009. Marks the beginning of several rounds of layoffs of team and arena employees at all levels of operation, including team mascot Thunderbug.
  • April 14, 2009. The Tampa Bay Lightning is awarded the second overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montréal.
  • May 11, 2009. Rick Tocchet is officially made the new head coach and is signed to a new contract.
  • May 11, 2009. Team majority owner Oren Koules, at a public forum event, boasts that former GM Jay Feaster never had the nerve or made promises not to trade Vincent Lecavalier. Koules is quickly corrected by those in attendance that Feaster had made the claim several times during his tenure as GM.
  • June 23, 2009. Oren Koules and Len Barrie go into mediation to determine who has control of the team after months of speculation that the two are feuding. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman rules that Oren Koules stays in control of the franchise.

June 23, 2009

Tampa Bay - Four Days Before the Draft....

Bickering Tampa Bay Lightning owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie on track for a messy divorce

They decide to implode now - four days before the draft. Nice. What timing. Somehow, I don't think mediation is going to solve anything in time. And somehow, I don't think it's all that important who they're taking second overall in the draft. Not when they can't agree on who's GM. Do you?

I'll come back and add more thoughts to this later today.

June 22, 2009

Draft Help - Centers and Wings (Hockey Basics)

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked, "…if you were a coach, what would you look for in a prospective player for your team?" An 18-year-old was asking my advice on what he needed to do to get on to a junior team. So that got me to thinking that it might be helpful to outline the expectations of each position. Well, my interpretation of the expectations, anyways.

These are just the ideal basics, which don’t always hold true during an actual game – particularly when it comes to positioning. Hockey is a fast and fluid game, so nothing is ever written in stone. Set plays are sketchy at best and not often used except during power plays and faceoffs. However, most of the time, players should be in the general vicinity of where their position dictates.

Overall Expectations for All Players

There are different things look for depending on the position, but for any position, maturity (relative to the age level), intelligence (not book smarts but common sense), quick feet and hands, passing ability, being defensively responsible, physical play, and being in the right kind of physical shape are the big ones. Which are probably similar requirements for many other team sports. From there, you can get more specific according to position.

Position: Center

Ideally, a center’s territory is down the middle of the ice from end to end. Very similar to a center in basketball, it’s about being in front of or around the net. Because of that, centers need to be in excellent cardiovascular condition. Endurance is key for that position.

A center should be running the ice during their shift, making sure people are where they’re supposed to be, keeping teammates accountable – that kind of thing. So individual responsibility is pretty big and they should be able to multitask fairly well. Goal scoring is not the primary responsibility of a center. The first responsibility of a center is to set up plays – like a quarterback in football does.

Accurate passing ability is key for this position. Shooting ability is not as important, although most coaches and fans would probably think so. In theory, if they can pass accurately then they should be able to shoot accurately. But sometimes people have mental blocks about things like that.

Winning faceoffs is important, of course, but a lot of emphasis has been taken off of that in recent years. It’s more important to have control of the puck, and simply winning a faceoff doesn’t guarantee that. So really, a center needs to be strong on their skates (meaning, not easily knocked down) in order to tie up the other center to take them out of the play rather than actually winning anything. Winning pads stats and makes a player look better to the people who care about that kind of thing.

Being able to be a third defenseman in case there’s a breakaway going the other way is important as well. There are times when a defenseman gets stuck out of position, and it’s the center’s responsibility to cover for that defenseman if at all possible. While they don’t have to be able to skate backwards proficiently, it does definitely help.

Position: Wing

When it comes to the forwards, wingers have it a bit easier then centers. There’s less on-ice responsibility and less territory to cover. A wing covers the blue line in front of his goalie to the other end of the ice on one side. Basically, they stick to their side and do what’s expected of them – which, in most cases, are passing, shooting, and scoring.

Endurance isn’t as much of an issue as it is with being a center. Short, explosive sprints are more important at wing. It’s about getting to pucks first, blowing by defensemen, shooting off the puck before the goalie’s ready – that kind of thing. The focus is more on speed and agility than anything else. Accurate shots trump accurate passes, though passing skills are still important, and having a variety of accurate shots increases your value. Having some of the skills of a center (accurate passing, defensive ability, taking faceoffs) can only help.

Tomorrow: Defensemen and Goaltenders

Lecavalier trade delayed past July 1st?

A Tampa reporter sent out this on Twitter today (passed along to me by a friend):
Former NHL exec says Lecavalier talk has died down and a move before July 1 unlikely, but doesn't rule out a move at later date.

Yeah, I'd like to see them try to move Vinny against his will. Especially after his no-movement clause kicks in. I think he'd probably go play in Europe before he let them trade him. Or he could give in gracefully. Just depends on what mood they catch him in when they ask (or demand), I think.

Can you even imagine? "Vinny, we know how much you love it here, and what you mean to the community. But we just can't afford your salary. I know that we negotiated that contract with you, but that was during a more favorable economic climate. So would you give us a list of teams and waive your no-movement clause? We'd really appreciate your cooperation in this. Thanks."

(I don't know about you, but just writing that pissed me off - and it has absolutely nothing to do with me.)

Assuming that they're that polite, of course. I keep thinking about Boyle, though, and how he was pressured and humiliated into waiving his no-trade clause. And how furious that made him. Remember, these are the exact same people involved here as well. They don't seem to do public relations nor diplomacy very well.

I've brought up this possibility before, so I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. But, wow, it could be ugly if it happens. Lecavalier's really not the sort you want to have mad at you.

Don't let that pretty face and calm demeanor fool you. He's got a wicked temper. I'd even go so far to say that he's ruthless when provoked.

Have you ever seen him fight? He'll look annoyed for a little bit and then unexpectedly start pounding on someone for no apparent reason. It's like a ton of bricks falling on someone out of the blue.

I read a quote of his a while back saying something along the lines of, "If you know you're going to get into a fight, make sure you get in the first swing and make it count." Not exactly chivalrous, is it? Though it is ruthlessly practical thinking, all the same.

I can understand that kind of thinking, tho. I mean, he's got an older brother and you've got to take what opportunities you can. I know how that goes since I'm the youngest myself.

This is all pure speculation on my part, of course. Still, it's something to think about. The Lightning have done it before with Boyle and it worked. There's no reason to believe that they won't try it again with Lecavalier.

June 19, 2009

Men In Suits - A Fashion Primer

Ted Nugent called, he wants his shirt back.

Ask any woman, and most will tell you that there's almost nothing better than a man in a nicely tailored suit. Well, except for me, of course. I like to add that there's almost nothing better than a man in a nicely tailored suit - except for, maybe, a man in a kilt. But that's my Scottish heritage talking.

An inexpensive suit can look expensive if nicely tailored. An expensive suit can look cheap if it's not tailored and ill-fitting. Trust me, men, it's worth the extra change and time to get it done - and to get it done right.

So here's some basic rules on suits, because women pay a great deal of attention to these things.
  • Always match your belt, watch band (if it's leather), and shoes. They should be about the same color. All of them. And probably either all suede or all finished leather.
  • Never wear black leather accessories with a navy suit. Black works with a blue suit, but never a navy one. There's a difference.
  • Never buy a suit with metal buttons. If you love the suit regardless of the buttons, have the tailor switch the buttons for you. Metal buttons make you look like Mr. Howell from Gilligan's Island - or a cruise director on the Love Boat.
  • Always, always, always match your socks to either your pants or your shoes - no matter what you're wearing. Athletic socks are for athletic shoes. And athletics. Seriously.
Here are the basic rules on fit - for pretty much all clothes for men, really.
  • Suit jackets. Shoulders should be even with the upper arms. Meaning, there should be about an inch overhang of the shoulder seam from the actual shoulder.
  • Sleeves. When arms are hanging down, cuffs should hit halfway down the back of the hand with normal posture. When arms are raised and hands are out front and shoulder-level, cuffs should just cover the wrists. It's pretty much the same for jackets, except they should be half an inch shorter then shirt sleeves.
  • Buy shirts that are an inch larger around the neck then the actual neck measurement.
  • Pant legs should fall one to one and a half inches above the ground at the heel with normal posture.
  • Only men with broad shoulders can get away with wearing a double-breasted jacket. When in doubt, just don't do it.
My personal preferences, speaking as a woman....
  • No pleats. Flat-front pants always. Not even on the golf course.
  • No cuffs on the pants.
  • Neck ties finish a suit nicely. I know that they're uncomfortable - but so are high heels. A suit without a tie looks incomplete and almost too casual for business attire.
  • I like pocket squares. (Also known as handkerchiefs to us older folk.) But then, I grew up watching old movies and they were a standard part of the apparel. As were flowers in the lapel, but that might be a little over the top in this day and age.
  • Try dressing like Cary Grant, and you can never go wrong - in my opinion, at least. Same as was mentioned with the Jarome Iginla photo. Just like that.
And, as always, the best accessory a man can have is an attractive women. And that works the other way, too - the best accessory a woman can have is an attractive man. I just have to make one little comment on that, tho.

So surveying the players and their female companions, I noticed the two extremes. On the one hand, you had Steve Mason's companion - who looked..."hired"...as Wrap Around Curl so accurately put it. And then there was Zdeno Chara's companion who looked pretty normal. You can tell a lot about a guy by the type of female companionship he chooses to be with - temporarily, permanently, or otherwise.

Now, I understand the appeal of the trophy girlfriend/wife. I don't agree with it, but I understand it - it's an insecurity thing. I get that. However, I do have to say that any man who has the ability and the opportunity to date/marry a model or an actress, and instead chooses a normal looking woman to be with, instantly gets respect in my book.

June 16, 2009

Alex Rigsby Update

USHL Chicago Steel Prospect Alex Rigsby: Post Camp Thoughts

Unfortunately, she was cut. But she did get pretty far, so that's good. Chances are also good that this won't be the last we hear of her.

Hockey Blogger NHL Awards Party in DC

Puck Daddy / Japer's Rink Awards Party: Prizes and TV?

I think I'll probably go to this. Why not? It'd be nice to put faces with some names. And a little networking never hurt anyone. I could need JP's help on how things work with the Caps, too. Now the only question is...what am I going to wear?

Anyone who's in the area, feel free to stop by. It ought to be a good time. And maybe I'll meet you there.

June 15, 2009

The real meaning of "cahones"

Nicklas Lidstrom loses Stanley Cup, gains every man's respect

As I keep telling people - you have to be dead in order to not play in the NHL playoffs. Case in point, Nick Lidstrom. Sort of an extreme example, but you get the idea.

June 13, 2009

Alex Rigsby - First female player drafted by a USHL team

Q & A with Chicago Steel Prospect Alex Rigsby: First Woman ever Drafted in the USHL

As a woman who used to play hockey, you've got to love seeing stories like this. Someone sees that she's good enough to play with boys her age. I think it's a great thing.

At the same time, however, it's difficult for women to compete with men at the same level. Not because men are physically superior to women, but because we're built differently. Men do some thing better than women, and women do some things better than men. That's just the way it is.

Even if you disregard the general height differences, the fact is that men are faster then women when it comes to leg speed. It comes down to knees and how they're put together. A man's hip socket is typically right above his knee joint, so a man's weight lies in directly on top of his knee from the hip. A woman's hip socket is outside of her knee joint, and because of that, her thigh bone comes into her knee at an angle. So while a woman's strength is typically in her lower body, that hip to knee angle makes running and skating a less efficient movement than it would be for a man.

I'm 5'9", and if I were to skate against a guy with the same leg length, the same leg strength, and the same amount of experience, he'd win almost every single time. It's simple biomechanics. And it's why you will rarely see any woman play against men at the same level in a position outside of the goal crease. This is also why women's hockey is slower than men's hockey. It's not because they're not as good, but because they're built differently.

I wish her all the best. But at only 5'7", she's going to have a tough time getting playing time professionally against men. Especially when tall goaltenders are the preference at this point.

Draft Help - Major Junior Hockey Overview

With the NHL Entry Draft coming up in less than two weeks, many National Hockey League fans across the United States and Europe will hear plenty about players coming from major junior hockey teams, but they may not understand what major junior hockey is.

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) is currently the primary NHL talent pool – the major source for new talent brought into the league by way of their yearly entry. The majority of North American-born players that have made it to the NHL have played for teams belonging to the CHL. And few European-born players have also taken that route as well. Here’s a quick overview of what the CHL is and how it operates.

The CHL is an umbrella organization that includes the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). It is an extension of what Americans would equate with baseball’s Little League system; major junior hockey being the approximate equivalent to American Legion Baseball. Typically, it includes 16- to 20-year-old boys, the bulk of whom are from Canada. Much like the NHL, each league in the CHL holds an annual draft and selects players from lower age-group leagues and lower tiered junior leagues in order to re-stock their franchises.

Hockey Canada, the governing body for ice hockey in Canada, recognizes the CHL and its leagues as amateur hockey. But the NCAA – the American college sports governing body - considers it a professional league due to the fact that players receive small stipends from their teams. Collegiate players have no impediments in making the transition the other way, however, from college to the CHL should they choose to.

Boys are forced to decide at a relatively early age whether or not they would like to play collegiate hockey. If a boy decides to play for a major junior team, then they are ruled ineligible to play for an NCAA-sanctioned team. Many players choose to take the major junior route over college because it is generally believed to be a more direct path to the NHL. However, it has become more common for the NHL to draft collegiate players in recent years. The major junior route is still largely the most preferred.

The CHL is set up very similarly to the NHL in terms of travel, schedule, and player transactions. The WHL plays a 70-game regular season schedule, while the OHL and the QMJHL play a 68-game regular season schedule. Often, players leave home to play hockey at 16 to live with host families (also called billets) and to attend schools located in the towns where they play. Teams in all three major junior leagues trade players just like the NHL, only without being hampered by salaries and salary caps. They do not trade players between leagues, however, though a player can switch leagues if he chooses – and if there’s a team willing to take him.

Travel schedules can be extensive, and can cover a great deal of area. Teams typically travel by bus between games, which is similar to how the minor hockey leagues in North America operate. Players in school are expected to keep up on their school work even while on the road.

The WHL covers the largest amount of area of all of the leagues in the CHL, literally spreading out across the western half of Canada. The WHL has 22 teams in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, as well as four teams in Washington State and one in Oregon. They have two conferences, just like the NHL, and four divisions.

The OHL covers perhaps the smallest amount of area. The league has 20 teams that cover the province of Ontario, as well as three teams in the US – two in Michigan, and one in Pennsylvania. The also have two conferences, as well as four divisions. Most of the teams are located in southern Ontario between Windsor, Niagara, and Ottawa.

The QMJHL has 18 teams that are spread out across the province of Québec, and also New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and one team in the state of Maine. It is a single conference with four divisions. Most of the teams are located along the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

The winners of all three leagues play for the Memorial Cup at the end of May each season to determine the overall champion of the CHL. A host city with a major junior team is determined before the season starts, and the team from that city gets to participate, giving the tournament four teams. Occasionally, the host city team wins the championship, but that’s not typical.

The 2009 Memorial Cup Tournament was held in Rimouski, Québec. The Kelowna Rockets (WHL), the Windsor Spitfires (OHL), and the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) were joined by the Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL). Kelowna and Windsor met in the final, in which Windsor won the game and the Cup. The Kelowna Rockets, by the way, had one player who grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, on their roster, as well as three from California and one from Colorado – all considered non-traditional hockey areas.

In total, the CHL stretches across Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic and has 60 teams. As with the NHL, teams have come, gone, and moved since the first league – the WHL – was created in the 1960s. Boys from as far away as eastern Russia have come to play in the CHL, as well as boys from the southern United States. And the NHL will be drafting the best of them for many years to come.

Pittsburgh Penguins - 2009 Stanley Cup Winners

I would like to congratulate the Pittsburgh Penguins on winning the Stanley Cup. And I would also thank the Detroit Red Wings for a great Final series, as well as all of the teams that made it into the post season. Happy offseason everyone - the 2009 Entry Draft is in two weeks in Montréal.

June 10, 2009

Stanley's Game Sevens

Let us all pause for a minute, and give thanks to the hockey gods for the Stanley Cup Finals Game 7.

True hockey fans consider Game 7 like a little kid thinks of unexpected cake and ice cream. You don't ask about the ice cream flavor or if the cake and frosting are your favorites - you just eat and be thankful. It's the same for Game 7. You don't care who's playing, you just watch and are thankful that it's going on.

Game 7s are to be cherished, adored, and put up on a pedestal. You savor every minute of it, and hope for overtime so that it goes a little bit longer. You admire the grace, toughness, and stamina of the players who made it that far, and are in awe of their ability to push through injuries and exhaustion just so they can play.

What people don't understand - particularly the casual American hockey fan - is that they're not playing for the championship. Oh no. A championship isn't the point. They're playing for the Stanley Cup. Being a champion is just the added bonus.

The guys left on the ice want the trophy. The exact same trophy that their childhood heroes held. The exact same trophy that their father's childhood heroes held. And the exact same trophy that their grandfather's childhood heroes held. This isn't like the NFL, the NBA, MLB, or any NCAA championship where you get a new trophy every year to keep forever. This is all about that 35-pound cylindrical gift covered in sterling silver and engraved with the names of hockey heroes, topped with Lord Stanley's Cup.

Game 7 is what every kid who plays hockey dreams about. (Both girls and boys, I might add.) Game 7 is about glory and immortality. That one moment in a player's life where they fulfill that childhood fantasy. To be a hero forever.

So let us all bow our heads and thank the hockey gods for this tradition, this fantasy, and this heartbreak and joy. And while you're talking to the hockey gods, ask for that rarest gift of all - Game 7 overtime. Because to win the Cup in sudden death is the sweetest moment of all. And the most tragic.

June 5, 2009

Toronto Maple Leafs blocking Balsillie

Maple Leafs are real power behind farcical war over Coyotes

I'm so not at all surprised by this. In fact, I've been wondering why it's taken so long to come out. It makes total sense once you realize that the NHL offices in Toronto are in the Air Canada Centre - a fact that not many American hockey fans aren't aware of. The so-called replay "War Room" is located there as well.

Why would any monopoly want competition? And, mistake me not, the Maple Leafs have a monopoly in southern Ontario. Tickets might cost a lot, and may be hard to come by, but you've got all kinds of merchandising options available there. Not to mention tv as well. Buffalo is the perfect neighbor because they draw almost no crowd away from the Leafs.

Add to the fact that the NHL and its owners want their cut of the expansion pie. Southern Ontario has long been thought of as a money pit. They don't want to move a team there because then that takes away from essentially free money. If a team were moved there, then only Toronto would get any money - in the form of a territorial infringement fee.

(For those that don't know, each NHL team has a 50-mile (80 km) buffer around the city limits of the town that they're located in. That's the only criteria that determines their exclusive territory. Another team can move into that territory, but in theory they have to have the permission of the established team - and pay them for it, of course. I'm not sure if that's legally enforceable or not, tho.)

Expansion is what both the Maple Leafs and the NHL want in that area. Not relocation. If Balsillie just wanted to own a team, then he'd probably have one by now. If he wanted to buy a team and relocate it to just about anywhere else, chances are decent that that probably would've happened by now as well. However, the sticking point is the location, not necessarily the man who's looking to buy his way into this exclusive fraternity. Although, I'm sure by now it's partly about the individual as well - not greasing the right palms, not sucking up in the socially approved manner, et cetera.

So even after this is decided in the American courts, the Canadian courts will probably have their say in this as well.

Tampa Bay...update?

Detroit discount?-Hossa likely has to take less money if he's to stay with Wings
Despite all the denials coming out of the Sunshine State, the Tampa Bay Lightning is trying to deal C Vinny Lecavalier. A league source told Sun Media yesterday the Bolts have informed the NHL they intend to spend at the salary floor of approximately $40.5 million next season. They already have $38 million committed to 17 players and have to sign to get to the 23-man roster limit. Getting Lecavalier's $10 million salary off the books would clear space for the Bolts to sign blueliners. He's not only the Lightning player being shopped. League sources insist there are others, but didn't want to give out any names. A proposal deal to send Lecavalier to the Kings for D Jack Johnson is still on the table. Sources say Johnson, who is coming off an entry-level contract, is seeking a four-year deal worth $5.5 million per season. No wonder the Kings want to deal him. They aren't the only team in pursuit of Lecavalier. Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal have all made calls.
I can't even believe they're still denying it. We all know that Vinny's gone, it's just a matter of when, where, and for who at this point. Lightning fans would wish it otherwise, but that's the "business" side of hockey. Or so they say.

Of course, this is a Canadian paper, so you have to take any "news" or "rumours" with a grain of salt - especially when it's regarding a Southeast Division team. They don't always fact-check their articles about those teams. At least, that's what I've found. Literally.

Victor Hedman

Here's to hoping the Tampa Bay Lightning draft Hedman. They do need defense, after all. And the NY Islanders seem like they're really wanting to draft John Tavares.

...Is this guy really only 18...?

June 2, 2009

The infamous "torn hip labrum" injury

Hips Are Bringing More Athletes to Their Knees [NY Times article - may require login]

This article deals mostly with the rash of baseball players having hip problems, but anyone who watches hockey knows that this happens in that sport, too. Frankly, I thought that it was caused by the unnatural motion of skating, but I guess that assumption is wrong if baseball players are affected. There's no more natural motion than running, after all. Unless it's batting that does it.

Whenever I watch college football, I cringe when I see the linemen with their ankle braces. Because when you stabilize your ankle, and something happens to your leg, the next weakest point is your knee. if you stabilize your knee, too, then it's your hip. After that, it's your back. It's a never-ending thing. In the end, it's just better to not go down that road and leave the ankle alone in the first place.

I mean, seriously, which would you rather have? A sprained ankle? Or instead, a sprained knee? I don't know about you, but I've done both and I'll take the sprained ankleover the sprained knee any day.

It's hard to say whether hip injuries are a training issue, a motion issue, or simply an awareness issue. After all, concussions were disregarded for the longest time as being nothing. It's only been the last 10 years or so that people have taken them seriously. So you've got to wonder if hip injuries are a similar thing. The new "fad" injury because everyone's suddenly aware of it. Probably, it's a combination of all three factors.